By Annette Chrysostomou
A leading light of the Roman Catholic church in Cyprus for more than 25 years, Father Umberto Barato, who died last Tuesday at the age of 85, was buried on Monday at the Holy Cross church in Nicosia.
Those paying their last respects included the archbishop of the Maronites in Cyprus, a representative of the Cyprus archbishopric and ordinary people from many countries who had known the Franciscan priest during his long years of service.
Umberto Barato was a friar for 68 years, and before coming to live in Cyprus permanently in 1989 his posts included the Philippines and Jerusalem. During his time in Cyprus he was the Patriarchal Vicar of the Latins in Cyprus and an attaché of the Holy See. He was also a parish priest in Limassol from 1989 to 1992 before concluding his service at the Holy Cross church in Nicosia.
“He was the national chaplain of ‘faith and light’ in Cyprus,” said Pepinos Moussas, a representative of a voluntary organisation which aids persons with mental disabilities. “He was a simple and very valuable man.”
He said Father Umberto helped to bring together all the Catholic groups in Cyprus including the faithful from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and other countries who were living in Cyprus. “Since then, the Catholic churches are full of people.”
For Joseph Josephides, knight of the Holy Sepulchre, Father Umberto’s influence was practical as well as spiritual. “After 1974, he compiled a list of churches in the whole of Cyprus which were destroyed in the war,” said Josephides speaking before the funeral. “And this was the beginning of the initiative to restore the churches with money from the UN. Nobody else crossed to the north at the time.”
“Every year he organised a trip to Jerusalem for all interested,” added Emma Awiza from the council of the Franciscan fraternity, who also attended the funeral. “He was very organised and disciplined, and strict as well. But he had a big heart. He was our spiritual director and advisor and he was so knowledgeable; he taught us many things about life.”
Barato would be remembered by the Latin community in Cyprus for being constructive and cooperative, Benito Mantovani, the Latin representative, told the Cyprus Mail last week.
“I had known him for 25 years when he was transferred from Rhodes to Cyprus,” he said. “He was very constructive, for example he helped the Franciscan sisters in Nicosia establish a centre for foreign workers.”
Father Umberto retired two years ago and went to live in a monastery in Larnaca.
Besides his native Italian, Father Umberto was fluent in English and Greek and had an excellent command of French and Spanish. He also knew Latin, Classical Greek and German.